Rummanah Aasi
  Huntley Fitpatrick's debut novel, My Life Next Door, is a hotly anticipated summer read. It promises romance, summer fun, and lovable characters that you wish could stay longer with you after you finished the book. For the most part, the book delivers on all of these aspects. Though I did have a few issues with the book, it's definitely a book that I would be recommending for those in search for a good summer romance novel.

  Description (from Goodreads): The Garretts are everything the Reeds are not. Loud, numerous, messy, affectionate. And every day from her balcony perch, seventeen-year-old Samantha Reed wishes she was one of them . . . until one summer evening, Jase Garrett climbs her terrace and changes everything. As the two fall fiercely in love, Jase's family makes Samantha one of their own. Then in an instant, the bottom drops out of her world and she is suddenly faced with an impossible decision. Which perfect family will save her? Or is it time she saved herself?

Review: I absolutely loved the first half of My Life Next Door. In the first chapter we see the juxtaposition between warm and distant, normal and abnormal. The Garrets and Reeds live in proximity to one another; however, socially there are as far from each other as the North and South Pole.
   The Garrets radiate warmth, bringing smiles to our faces as we see a large family getting along with one another. We recognize our own family quirks and idiosyncrasies with theirs. Though personally, I do find ten kids a bit difficult to manage (I come from a family of four siblings plus me) and openly breast feeding in public a little weird, but that's what give them their charm. They are real, genuine inside and outside of the house. Like many of us, they also share common household issues. They are not ashamed of who they are despite the names their neighbors call them behind their backs.   
   On the complete opposite side of the spectrum are the Reeds, run by a single mom with political ambitions with her two daughters. The Reeds give off a stiff, sterile impression. Their house is museum-like, staged, and perfectly clean. It's as if their family is constantly "on", trying to fit the mold of what a perfect family should be. Just picture any political ad for a politician that showcases their family and you pretty much have the Reeds. Out of these two families, it's no wonder that Samantha chose the Garrets over her own family. I would too.
  The biggest strength of My Life Next Door is establishing the various characters in the book and developing their relationships with one another. Each character has their own unique voice and personality. We aren't just told in the narrative that these characters become close, but we are shown their strong bonds as they share small but mundane moments with one another such as fixing a car and babysitting.
  Due to the strong bonds already established, Samantha and Jase's relationship start out and progress naturally. Huzzah for no insta-love! The romance is incredibly sweet and guaranteed to make you smile and sigh. I loved Samantha and Jase as a couple. They are adorable without being obnoxious and clingy. They both complimented each other so well. Both are struggling to find their own identities, overcome the pressure of meeting other people's expectations of themselves, and develop self confidence amongst other things. I will say that Samantha at times bugged me, especially when she tried to keep Jase as her dirty little secret but knowing her relationship with her mom, I can understand why but I still don't agree with her actions. 
  My main issue with the book is the second half where the conflict is introduced. I got the impression that the conflict was pinned on at the end and the story lost a bit of its steam for me. The issue instead of being shocking, which I think is what the author was going for, came across to me as anti-climatic and resolved too quickly. I would have liked the problem to slowly build a bit more in the first half and then come to the book's climax, which I think would give the book a bit more of an emotional punch, which is why I gave the book it's 3.5 stars rating. If you're looking for a good summer read to unwind and put a smile on your face, be sure to check out My Life Next Door. Despite my issue with the second half, I definitely think it's worth picking up and reading.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: Strong language, implied drug usage, candid discussion of sex, and a small non-explicit sex scene. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, Perfect You by Elizabeth Scott, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Waiting for You by
Rummanah Aasi
 Are you looking for a suspenseful read to take with you on the beach? Check out S.J. Watson's debut novel Before I Go To Sleep especially if Memento is your kind of movie. If you like psychological thrillers instead of blood and gore, this book would be a great choice for you.

Description: 'As I sleep, my mind will erase everything I did today. I will wake up tomorrow as I did this morning. Thinking I'm still a child. Thinking I have a whole lifetime of choice ahead of me ...' Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love - all forgotten overnight. And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story. Welcome to Christine's life.

Review: Before I Go To Sleep is an absorbing psychological thriller that grabs you right away and won't let you go. As the book opens, Christine wakes up every morning thinking she is still in her early 20s until she looks in the mirror and discovers she’s in her late 40s. The bathroom is plastered with photos that doesn't recognize. She has absolutely no recollection of her friends, family, her life, and even her husband. She is able to transfer things from short term to long term memory but is unable to retain them after she falls asleep, repeating the same nightmarish cycle all over again. While her personal memories (i.e. herself, her family, etc.) have vanished, she does remember how to do things and knows the names of objects. 
   We know as much, and as little, as Christine. Fiction and truth collide when her doctor advises her to keep a journal in order to remind herself every day of who she is.  The story is told by others don't mesh with what she has written down herself. I really enjoyed how Watson played with this notion of memory and the unreliable narrator. At times I, like Christine, had to second guess myself whether or not specific events happened or not in the book.
 
The characters are removed in the book, which normally I would have a problem with as a reader, however, it makes sense with the mysterious tone of the book. When I did find more about Christine, I didn't really like her but I still felt bad for her, if that makes any sense. 

   I will warn you that the book unravels at a leisurely pace. It was really hard for me to not turn to the end. I tend to do that with mysteries and thrillers if I'm pretty confident on the identity of the perpetrator. I did manage the big twist before Christine, however, I actually enjoyed the journey to the big reveal. The prospect of constant amnesia is frightening enough, but having people manipulate your memories is just creepy. Overall, the book held my interest and made me think about how fragile memories can be.
 
Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, violence, sexual dialog and situations. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante, Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane, The Dark Room by Minette Walters, Black Out by Lisa Unger
Rummanah Aasi
  One of my reading goals for last year was to finally read the popular Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead, which I've been told by several people is a great series. I read the first book of the series, Vampire Academy, back in January and have managed to avoid writing a review until now. Why? I had reader's guilt for not liking the book, which put me in a reading slump for about a month or so before I could myself out of that hole.

Description: Two years after a horrible incident made them run away, vampire princess Lissa and her guardian-in-training Rose are found and returned to St. Vladimir's Academy, where one focuses on mastering magic, the other on physical training, while both try to avoid the perils of gossip, cliques, gruesome pranks, and sinister plots.

Review:  I really don't have to tell you that the Vampire Academy series is extremely popular. It's heralded by some as the best YA paranormal romance series featuring a great, exciting story that stars a strong female protagonist. It's even got a spin off series that is doing remarkably well on the bestseller's list.
 With all of the numerous glowing reviews I read of this book, I was expected to be blown away, to be reminded of why I ventured into the paranormal genre in the first place. My expectations were high and I was incredibly saddened when it didn't meet them. I actually felt I was either reading the wrong book or completely missed what everyone seemed to love about it. I just wasn't connecting with this book at all.
  Since the book has been reviewed by many others, I won't spend time on the plot of the story. In fact, I actually had a problem in finding the book's plot. All throughout the book, I felt like a third person listening into a conversation while Rose and Lissa talked. They were the A and B in the conversation while I saw my way out- constantly. I understood that the girls had a strong connection to one another, but hints to huge plot developments stumped me as they weren't explained at all and when they were, it was more like an afterthought. It was as if the author wrote down all the big plot points and then be told by an editor that the holes needed to be filled with explanations, except these didn't come until about 20 pages or so after the event happened. I quickly grew bored and frustrated. I even fell asleep on numerous occasions when there were action sequences.
    I know that Rose is prized amongst many readers as an incredibly strong female character. Unfortunately for me, I didn't see her that way at all. I thought Rose was abrasive, obnoxious, over-the-top, and to be completely honest a bit hypocritical. She constantly tries to defend herself from being labeled promiscuous, yet falls into random make-out sessions with guys. I didn't really find many redeeming things about her besides her strong loyalty to Lissa. Sure, she had some great snarky lines but that's about it. I know that there's a reason behind her personality, but I don't have the patience to read about it for half of the series (there are five) to find out the answer and for her to change as I've been told by other friends who enjoyed this series. Rose gave me a headache and I just wanted to put her on pause.
   As for the other characters, none of them stuck out for me. I thought they were your average paranormal romance characters- the aloof love interest with a hard exterior but with a heart of gold, the suck-up, the upper class who whines about being in the upper echelon and facing the pressure of meeting other people's expectations, etc. I did, however, find it interesting to incorporate some issues such as depression, gossip/slander within the book. Too bad these weren't expanded and dealt with in the book.
   The worst part of my reading experience is feeling guilty for not having one ounce of excitement. Guilty for falling asleep during the 'exciting' moments. Guilty for not wanting to know what happens next or heck, even look up spoilers online. Guilty for setting aside time to read all five books in this series when I had to force myself to finish the first book while desperately trying to find what made this book so popular. As I said, I felt so downtrodden that it took me a good month to get out of my slump and get back to this genre.
 So tell me, am I being too harsh? Should I give the series another shot? Have you ever had reader's guilt and if so, how did you overcome it?

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: Strong language, heavy make-out scenes with some nudity, underage drinking, and disturbing scenes. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: House of Night series by P.C. and Kristin Cast, Blueblood series by Melissa DeLa Cruz, Evernight series by Claudia Gray
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm taking a mini-break from manga as I realized that I haven't put up any graphic novel reviews lately. Today I'll be reviewing three graphic novels, two of which I read last year and one I read this year, that can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages. The three graphic novels that I'll be reviewing are Smile by Raina Telgemeier, The Last Dragon by Jane Yolen, and Alia's Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq by Mark Alan Stamaty.

Description (from the publisher): From the artist of BSC Graphix comes this humorous coming-of-age true story about the dental drama that ensues after a trip-and-fall mishap. Raina just wants to be a normal sixth grader. But one night after Girl Scouts she trips and falls, severely injuring her two front teeth. What follows is a long and frustrating journey with on-again, off-again braces, surgery, embarrassing headgear, and even a retainer with fake teeth attached. And on top of all that, there's still more to deal with: a major earthquake, boy confusion, and friends who turn out to be not so friendly.

Review: I think we all have gone through a big event in our childhood that defined our lives. For author Raina Telgemeier that moment is when she randomly fell and lost her front tooth at the tender age of 12. Her recovery included painful surgery, implants, headgear, false teeth, and a rearrangement of her remaining incisors. As you can image, being a young kid who is already struggling with the roller coaster ride we all call puberty where boy confusion, changing bodies as well as expectations from family and friends isn't easy to deal with one its own. Telgemeir's storytelling is straight forward and honest, expertly portraying her mercurial moods. The full color illustrations transport you into the author's shoes allowing you to play through her emotions, insecurities, and self depreciating humor. What I loved about this graphic novel is that both adults and kids that surround the author's life are vividly and rapidly portrayed, giving its reader a quick reminder that things do turn around with perseverance and self confidence. Though the book may be about a girl, I've seen boys and adults pick up this graphic novel and enjoy it. It gets two big thumps from me.  

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There's a bit gush of blood after the accident, but other than that it's pretty clean. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

 If you like this book try: Drama by Raina Telgemeier (available in Sept 2012), How to Survive Middle School by Donna Gephart, Popularity Papers series by Amy Ignatow, Dork Diaries series by Rachel Renee Russell


Description (from the publisher): Master storyteller Jane Yolen ("Owl Moon" and "Sword of the Rightful King") and celebrated fantasy artist Rebecca Guay ("Swamp Thing" and "Magic: The Gathering") weave a textured and lyrical tale of adventure, homelands, and heroism the hard way. Two hundred years ago, humans drove the dragons from the islands of May. Now, the last of the dragons rises to wreak havoc anew - with only a healer's daughter and a kite-flying would-be hero standing in its way.

Review: Jane Yolen's The Last Dragon is a beautiful graphic novel that bring us back to the fairy tales we were drawn to as children where there was a hero that saved the day by killing a terrorizing dragon.  The book uses the tropes of a traditional hero's journey, where a man who claims to be heroic is put to the test. While it's true that the male hero succeeds in slaying the dragon, the star of the story, however belongs to the real heroine, the hard headed, unique, and talented girl named Tansy. 
  The narrative is told well through great description that brings the illustrations to life. The serious overtones of the story may be a bit much, but there are few bits of humor that lighten up the mood. Since I read the e-galley of the graphic novel courtesy of Netgalley, the pictures were big and the text was a bit hard to read but I think that was fixed in the print version of the book.  I'd definitely recommend this graphic novel to those who like fairy tales and dragons.


Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Some tongue and cheek humor, which would give it a PG rating. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Dragon Heart series by Jane Yolen, Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede


Description (from the publisher): The inspiring story of an Iraqi librarian's courageous fight to save books from the Basra Central Library before it was destroyed in the war. It is 2003 and Alia Muhammad Baker, the chief librarian of the Central Library in Basra, Iraq, has grown worried given the increased likelihood of war in her country. Determined to preserve the irreplaceable records of the culture and history of the land on which she lives from the destruction of the war, Alia undertakes a courageous and extremely dangerous task of spiriting away 30,000 books from the library to a safe place. Told in dramatic graphic-novel panels by acclaimed cartoonist Mark Alan Stamaty, Alia's Mission celebrates the importance of books and the freedom to read, while examining the impact of war on a country and its people.

Review: Alia's Mission is one of those rare graphic novels where I like the narrative much more than the actual drawings. We are narrated a story of a civilian heroine by an anthropomorphic book as it dramatically recreate Alia Baker's efforts to save the books of the Basra library in Iraq. Alia Muhammad Baker, chief librarian at the Basra Central Library, always had a lifelong passion for books and her country's history. Events in the 13th-century in when the Mongols invaded and a fire destroyed the Baghdad library have played a sense of foreboding and foreshadowing as to what could happen to her own precious library as her country is once again at war. We witness Baker requesting the government's permission to remove the collection from the building but gets denied. Refusing to quit, she begins to sneak books out of the library herself. Baker manages, with help from friends, to remove 30,000 volumes from the library, transporting them to private homes for safekeeping. With explosions in the background, Stamaty effectively captures the danger of the moment. We feel deeply saddened when the library is engulfed in flames and Baker's resulting. The author ends his graphic novel with a hopeful note that a new library is in developments. We are once again reminded that heroes can be everyday people and their work is just as important and inspiring.
  As I mentioned a bit earlier, I wasn't a fan of the illustrations in this book. All the panels were created in what seems to be in pen and are black and white. I didn't think they matched the intensity and passion of Baker's work. I would have liked to see little bits of color to show the various emotions that were well described by the text. Overall though a good story that is important to learn.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: Few depictions of war including bombs, depictions of guns, etc. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter, Nasreen's Secret School by Jeanette Winter

Rummanah Aasi
   I'm on a roll with reading fairy tale retellings this year. So far I've read four books and I do have my eye on reading Enchanted by The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy. I also hope to finally read Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine at some point this year too. There is something magical about fairy tales that keeps us coming back to them and adapting them to either modern day or a completely different setting altogether.

Description: When their stepmother casts Gretchen and Ansel out as teens, they are invited to stay with Sophia Kelly at her sweet shop. Life seems idyllic--until Gretchen meets handsome local outcast Samuel, and learns that girls have been vanishing at Sophia's annual chocolate festival, taken by the insatiable witch of Gretchen's nightmares.

Review: As you can probably tell from the names of the characters, Sweetly is a dark, contemporary take on the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale. In this retelling, Gretchen's twin sister disappears in the dark woods. Flash forward, 18-year-old Gretchen and her 19-year-old brother, Ansel, still struggle to understand who—or what—took Gretchen’s twin sister that night. After their father dies and their stepmother kicks them out, they travel cross-county till their car breaks down in Live Oak, South Carolina. There they meet Sophia, a beautiful, young chocolatier whose enchanting cottage-shoppe outside town becomes their new home. But both Sophia and the town hold secrets, and when Gretchen ventures into the nearby forest, she realizes things and people are not as they seem—and her childhood terror is real. For the most part, I enjoyed Sweetly. I liked the brother/sister relationship between Ansel and Gretchen. The plot and mythology was a bit slow and dragged for me, but I did like how Pearce tackled the issues of loss, grief, and survivor's guilt. I also thought the climax was a bit gory for my taste, but I'm sure those who like their fairy tales dark won't mind as much. I was, however, completely lost when the Fenris (werewolves) that come out of nowhere in the book. I know they played a big part in Sisters Red, but I really didn't understand what purpose they had in this book. Overall, it was pretty good but not great.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images including gory violence and some language. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, Fathomless by Jackson Pearce, A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz


Description: Bewitching can be a beast. . . . Once, I put a curse on a beastly and arrogant high school boy. That one turned out all right. Others didn't. I go to a new school now-one where no one knows that I should have graduated long ago. I'm not still here because I'm stupid; I just don't age. You see, I'm immortal. And I pretty much know everything after hundreds of years-except for when to take my powers and butt out. I want to help, but things just go awry in ways I could never predict. Like when I tried to free some children from a gingerbread house and ended up being hanged. After I came back from the dead (immortal, remember?), I tried to play matchmaker for a French prince and ended up banished from France forever. And that little mermaid I found in the Titanic lifeboat? I don't even want to think about it. Now a girl named Emma needs me. I probably shouldn't get involved, but her gorgeous stepsister is conniving to the core. I think I have just the thing to fix that girl-and it isn't an enchanted pumpkin. Although you never know what will happen when I start . . . bewitching.

Review: I was very excited to read Bewitching as I found Kendra to be a really intriguing character in Beastly. I wanted to know more about her story and Bewitching fulfills that desire and more. In 1666, teenage Kendra relates the horror of watching her family die from a plague, halted only when she becomes aware of her own magic and heals her remaining brother. Though the spotlight is on Kendra, she generously shares the stage with other fairy tales as she reflects on helping and/or harming those around her. We are taken across the years as we revisit the sinister gingerbread house, the Little Mermaid rescues a Titanic passenger, and the Princess and the Pea takes which takes place at Versailles. My favorite fairy tale out of all of these is amazing rendition of Cinderella. Though I knew the fairy tale, I was still turning the pages to find out what would happen next. I flipped back and forth on identifying the heroine and the evil stepsister. Despite the jumpy transitions between the fairy tales, I thought Bewitching was a fun read. I'm curious to see where Kendra is headed next in her chronicles.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and strong sensuality. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Beastly or Cloaked or A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn, Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman, 



Description: Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth's fate hinges on one girl. . . . Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She's a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister's illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai's, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world's future. In this thrilling debut young adult novel, the first of a quartet, Marissa Meyer introduces readers to an unforgettable heroine and a masterfully crafted new world that's enthralling.

Review: I never thought a science fiction rendition of the Cinderella story with blending androids, hovercrafts, and netscreens with royalty, a ball, and an evil stepmother would work, but Meyer's inventive and vivid world makes it plausible and enjoyable. I was a bit hesitant that the technological aspect of Cinder's world would be a bit much, but I was worried for nothing. Cinder is the perfect read for those who want an enjoyable book with science fiction elements without reading a heavy science fiction book.
  I loved the characters, especially Linh Cinder who is our sassy heroine that stands on her own. Though she is treated as a subhuman due to being a cyborg and forced to earn the family's living as a mechanic, she stands on her own and isn't afraid to speak her mind.
  While I did learn about the plot twists a bit prematurely with the book's early foreshadowing, I was still enthralled by this book. I wanted to learn more about Prince Kai and see how his and Cinder's relationship become closer. I also wanted to learn more about the Lunar throne. Though there is still quite a lot of world building to create, I think Meyer has a great start with Cinder. I'm eagerly awaiting to see what happens next as Cinder's story continues in four other books. Just a heads up, the book does end a cliffhanger of sorts, but I was actually okay with leaving the story there.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images and some language. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles #2) by Marissa Meyer coming in 2013, Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott, Ash by Malinda Lo, Ella Enchated by Gail Carson Levine, and for 'readable' science fiction try Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld or The Host by Stephanie Meyer

Rummanah Aasi
 Thanks to a particular lascivious book, you can't say the words shades or grey without having a few people raise their eyebrows. Let me assure you that's not why I was drawn to Shades of Honey and Milk, but I happened to stumble upon it while looking for some urban fantasy series. The tagline promising a Jane Austen-like ambiance with a dash of magic, and a nod to Beauty and the Beast is what made me pick this one up.

Description (from Goodreads): Shades of Milk and Honey is an intimate portrait of Jane Ellsworth, a woman ahead of her time in a version of Regency England where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality. But despite the prevalence of magic in everyday life, other aspects of Dorchester’s society are not that different: Jane and her sister Melody’s lives still revolve around vying for the attentions of eligible men.
   Jane resists this fate, and rightly so: while her skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face, and therefore wins the lion’s share of the attention. At the ripe old age of twenty-eight, Jane has resigned herself to being invisible forever. But when her family’s honor is threatened, she finds that she must push her skills to the limit in order to set things right–and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.


Review: Shades of Honey and Milk definitely delivers as an Austenesque read. The scenario is typical as two middle class sisters wait around to be married off to a man of nobility or at least some money to his name. The sisters are the plain on the outside but extremely talented Jane and the beautiful and fair Melody. Readers of Austen will immediately pick up the nods throughout the book, but irony, social criticism, as well as complication of character that make Austen's novels so loveable are not present in this book. Instead we are adding a neat magical system, which unfortunately isn't explored and seems little integrated with the world. 
  The characters, whose character traits seem to be picked from various Austen novels, are enjoyable. You have your obvious bad guys (I always thought Austen's villains were completely obvious), the love interest, the plain but in her own way extraordinary that takes people a while to recognize. I would have liked to know each of the characters a bit more, especially Jane and Vincent.
  The story takes time to warm up and is a bit obvious. I did notice a few period glitches found in the book, but it didn't take me out of the book. I chuckled a few times at the dead pan humor and was a bit surprised to see how the book's quickly ends given the slow start. 

  Kowal is a talented writer and Shades of Milk and Honey is a lovely tribute to Jane Austen, which she acknowledges in her author notes. I do plan on reading more of this series at some point, but I'm not rushing to it. I think the series has great potential and I'm curious to learn more about the world and hopefully, the next books won't seem as unfinished as this first book.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended to teens and adults who enjoy a clean romance with a dash of fantasy and magic.

If you like this book try: Glamour of Glass (Shades of Honey and Milk #2), The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey, The Native Star by M.K. Hobson
Rummanah Aasi
  As part of the Lies Beneath promotional tour hosted by The Teen Book Scene, I'd like to welcome Calder to the blog today. I sent Calder a few words and asked him what was the first thing that came to his mind. I will say that I'm definitely curious about his answers and I'm sure there's a story lurking there somewhere. I hope you enjoy!

Water - Home
 
Love - Foreign Movies

Family - Mysteriously Cool Thing When It Works
 
Betrayal - Unavoidable

Revenge - My Sister Maris
 
Purpose - To Make Things Right

Laughter - Hungry
 
Sadness - Black

Happiness - Pink
 
Peace - Dream On

Calder White lives in the cold, clear waters of Lake Superior, the only brother in a family of murderous mermaids. To survive, Calder and his sisters prey on humans, killing them to absorb their energy. But this summer the underwater clan targets Jason Hancock out of pure revenge. They blame Hancock for their mother's death and have been waiting a long time for him to return to his family's homestead on the lake. Hancock has a fear of water, so to lure him in, Calder sets out to seduce Hancock's daughter, Lily. Easy enough—especially as Calder has lots of practice using his irresistable good looks and charm on ususpecting girls. Only this time Calder screws everything up: he falls for Lily—just as Lily starts to suspect that there's more to the monsters-in-the-lake legends than she ever imagined. And just as his sisters are losing patience with him. (Cover and description courtesy of Goodreads)


Rummanah Aasi
 I'm pleased to have Kaitlyn Davis, the author of the upcoming book Simmer on the blog today. Since paranromal romance is still the rage in pop culture, I asked Kristin which paranormal romance world (book, TV, or movie) would she like to live in. Here's her answer and we would love to hear about yours!

   I want to go to Hogwarts!! I want a wand to choose me, I want to play Quidditch, I want to step on platform 9 ¾, I want my own owl and I want magic! Okay, I know Harry Potter is not a paranormal romance, but it is definitely the book I would live in given the chance. I think J.K. Rowling does an amazing job of bringing the setting to life and creating a hopeful world where dreams always have the possibility of coming true – to me that is irresistible!

 But, if I had to stick strictly within the paranormal romance genre, I would have to say I would want to jump into the pages of the Vampire Academy books and become a Moroi! First, I think the elemental magic is awesome! I would definitely specialize in water magic and would be right alongside Lissa and Christian learning how to fight Strigoi, even if it was technically against the rules! Second, I love the idea of the academy. Maybe I’m a nerd, but I love school and I wouldn’t want to live in a world where I had to give that up. School is where you make your best friends, meet your significant other and have a ton of fun! While many of the teenagers in the world of the Vampire Academy books grow up fast, they still have a childhood. Third and final, I want my own sexy dhampir bodyguard! Dimitri is one of my favorite fictional characters and I wouldn’t mind having a forbidden romance with someone like him ;)

   The only downside to the Vampire Academy world is the Strigoi, but I like to believe I would have been fighting with Rose and Lissa to take them down. I love a strong female lead and those girls would definitely be my friends!

 What about you guys? What paranormal world – book, television, or movies – would you absolutely love to live in?

Slowly, like a whisper almost blown away in the wind, two words streaked across her mind: "Kiss me."

Kira may have survived the eclipse, but her troubles are far from over. She's headed to Sonnyville with one goal in mind: to learn more about her parents. But with Luke and Tristan competing for her heart and Diana gunning for her head, time is running out on the search for her mother. And the closer Kira gets to answers, the more terrified she becomes. The conduits fear her, the vampires fear her, and Kira is starting to wonder if maybe they're right...

 To learn more about Kaitlyn check out the following links:

 
To learn more about Simmer check out:
  

Rummanah Aasi

Description (from the back cover): Nana K.'s perfect Tokyo life is crumbling around her. She can't keep a job, she can't keep any money, and now it looks like she can't even keep her boyfriend! But luckily, a tasty nugget of gossip about Nana O.'s past love life helps Nana K. keep her mind off her own troubles. If she can play the role of cupid for her best friend, can Nana K. get closer to her own happy ending?

Review: The fourth volume of Nana shifts its focus from everyday slices of life such as finding a job or getting a job to relationships. Nana O. and Shoji break up after lNana O learns he cheated on her with Sachiko. Their break up was unusual in that instead of Shoji coming clean, Sachiko takes full blame and responsiblity. I couldn't believe that Shoji never took fault since it takes two to cheat.  I think Nana O. had noticed clues that her relationship with Shoji was detoriating so she wasn't completely floored when it happened but she is heartbroken. In order to escape her own heartbreak, she ventures into learning more about Nana K., who unlike Nana O. is a closed book that doesn't talk much about herself. 
  As readers, we already know that Nana K. was in a serious relationship with Ren Honjo, Nana's former bassssist for her group Blast and now the face of Trapnest (chart-topping rock band), but Nana O. doesn't discover this news until Nana's groupie Misato tells her. There were lots of visual clues about Nana K. and Ren's ties to one another. There are many panels where Nana K. longingly looks at Ren at Nana O.'s Trapnest poster found in her room. Nana K. also grows quiet when Ren is mentioned by her other bandmates. Nana O's ignorance about this relationship shows how often she is lost in her own world. Nana O's new found mission is to bring Nana K and Ren back together, beginning with bringing Nana K with her to a Trapnest concert at Nana O's hometown. The mission is sweet and made with good intention. I hope it works.
  We travel along with the two Nanas to Nana O's hometown and meet her warm family. My heartached for Nana K. who clearly yearns for a family of her own who can fuss over her. We find out that Nana K.'s family is barely nonexistent. She never knew her father and her mother took off with a random guy when she was just 4 years old, leaving her with her distant grandmother. The volume ends on a minicliffhanger as the Nanas go to see Trapnest in concert. I'm curious to see Ren's reaction when he sees Nana K and whether their relationship can be rekindled. It's clear that they both have strong feelings for each other.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language as well as underage drinking and smokeing. Recommended for older teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Nana Vol. 5 by
Rummanah Aasi

I'd like to thank everyone for entering the Under Oath giveaway. Many thanks for author Margaret McLean stopping by the blog and for her publisher, Jane Wesman Public Relations, for allowing me to giveaway a copy of the book. According to Random.org, the winner of the giveaway is Zahida from Musings of a YA Reader! Congrats, Z! I've sent you an email. Please respond within 72 hours or else I'll have to choose another winner.
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm having a great time reading and discoveirng new picture books for my picture book challenge, which is hosted by Jennifer over at An Abundance of Books. I wanted to read some children literature that take place in the Middle East. It was difficult to find some that were fiction and not slanted in a political opinion, but I did manage to find some. I will be reviewing: Tunjur! Tunjur! Tunjur! by Margaret Read Macdonald, Mystery Bottle by Kristin Balouch, Silent Music by James Rumford, and Joha Makes a Wish by Eric Kimmel.


Description: A childless woman's prayers are answered by the arrival of a talking pot, but the new mother knows that Little Pot must learn right from wrong just like any child.

Review: Based on a Palestinian tale, a woman wishes for a child to love, even if it is nothing more than a cooking pot. Her wish comes true, and red Little Pot appears. The two spend some quality time indoors, but the Little Pot grows restless and years to explore the outside world. Reluctantly, the mother lets her pot outdoors, and Little Pots adventures and troubles begin. For the most part, I really enjoyed this book. There's plenty of repetitive phrases and lots of action to keep an audience's attention. The vibrant illustrations with clear influence on Islamic art fill the pages; however, I found myself a bit lost on the cultural detail in the story. There are also some heavy messages of right and wrong behavior, but overall I enjoyed it. I think it would be interesting to pair this one with multicultural variations of the Gingerbread Man stories.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades Preschool to Grade 2.

If you like this book try: The Man With Bad Manners by Idries Shah,


Description: What happens when a boy and his grandfather are separated from each other by borders, politics, and distance? The mystery bottle unites the two through an extraordinary gift. The bond of their love.

Review: I loved the concept behind Balouch's Mystery Bottle. The first intriguing image is found on the book jacket, which features a picture of a bottle with a rolled map plugging the opening. We know we are going on a journey with the boy on the cover. The bottle arrives in a package; when the boy removes the map, wind blows out of the bottle, whisking him across the sea and through the city where his grandfather, Baba Bazorg, now resides. Together they spend time and the grandfather explains that can still have a relationship even though they are thousands of miles away. I would have liked a bit more clarification and exploration of the country which the boy travels to and from (according to the book's blurb it's Iran). have tea, and the grandfather explains how, whenever the boy wants a cup of tea, he can open the bottle and be carried back to him. I'm not entirely sure if kids would grasp the deeper meaning behind this book, but I think it would make a good discussion. The artwork, which can be a bit crowded, is striking and unique. It combines simple, cut-paper shapes, collage, and stamp art, set against maps charting the boy's adventures.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades K- Grades 3.

If you like this book try: Landed by Milly Lee



Description: As bombs and missiles fall on Baghdad in 2003, a young boy uses the art of calligraphy to distance himself from the horror of war.

Review: Silent Music is a beautiful book that brings hope and light behind the back drops of war torn Iraq. Ali is a simple boy who loves soccer, music, and above all calligraphy-forming the elegant Arabic letters, pen that move along to the silent music he hears in his head. Ali tells us that his secret hero is the famous artist Yakut, a renowned 13th-century calligrapher who is said to have fled to a high tower to shut out the violence by the Mongol invasion at Baghdad in 1258. Like his hero, Ali also escapes from war and seeks solace from the missiles and bombs that falls on Baghdad in 2003. The effects of war on Ali is subtle yet profound. The Arabic word for war, Harb, comes easily to his pen, while he struggles to perfect Salam, the word for peace.
I absolutely loved the art work in this book. The jewel-toned illustrations are made with pencil, charcoal, and computer art programs. Ali and his family are depicted with warmth and personality, and their interactions add intimacy to the story, much like our own. Elaborately detailed designs appear throughout the book. It's clear that the illustrator is well aware of Islamic art from intricate tile arrangements, delicate floral motifs, and colorfully patterned clothing. Like the text, there are subtle images of war (army vehicles, helicopters, etc) that are striking with dark colors. I also loved how the the Arabic language adorns the pages as well as teaches the reader some new words. I highly recommend picking this up book.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 2 to 6.

If you like this book try: The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winters, The Color of Home by Mary Hoffman

Description: An original story, based on the Joha tales of the Arabic-speaking world, in which a hapless man finds a wishing stick that brings him nothing but bad luck. Includes an author's note about the history of Joha tales.

Review: Joha Makes a Wish is a laugh out funny folk tale from the Middle East. Kimmel recasts a Jewish tale from Yemen, and borrows story elements from widespread Middle Eastern folklore featuring the foolish wise man, aka Nasreddin Hodja. Kimmel's introductory note which gives us a little background to the story doesn't really explain his choice of using a lesser known name of Joha for his story, but that doesn't detract anything from the delightful story.
One day Joha finds a wishing stick. Everything he wishes for gets reversed. For example, he wishes for a new pair of shows, but instead his shoes disappear entirely. In spite of Joha's angry efforts to rid himself of the troublesome stick, it tightly adheres to his hand, causing much worse trouble when he encounters the sultan in the streets of Baghdad. Kimmel's well-paced text smoothly builds events and dialogue, leaving the character interpretation to the comic portrayals in Rayyan's energetic watercolor drawings. The character's physical features are exaggerated for comic effect. Joha is a small man with large hands and feet and a long, thin expressive face beneath a generous turban. His frayed sandals and patched trousers contrast with the splendor of the robust sultan and his armored guards. I don't know for sure if Joha's misadventures in this book are true to the original folklore or cultural roots, but I do know that this book will promise a great read along as the underdog outsmarts those who are powerful.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Recommended for Grades 1 to 6.

If you like this book try: The King's Taster by Kenneth Oppel, The Queen's Feet by Sarah Ellis
Rummanah Aasi
 Writing a series can be tricky. Sometimes they overstay their welcome, especially when a whole story arc finishes. I'm beginning to think the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare should have stopped after City of Glass where everything came together quite nicely.

Description (from the Publisher): The New York Times bestselling Mortal Instruments continues and so do the thrills and danger for Jace, Clary, and Simon. Can the lost be reclaimed? What price is too high to pay for love? Who can be trusted when sin and salvation collide? Love. Blood. Betrayal. Revenge. Darkness threatens to claim the Shadowhunters in the harrowing fifth book of the Mortal Instruments series.

Review: City of Lost Souls, in my opinion, is the weakest book in the Mortal Instrument series thus far. The book feels as if it's a pause button while the author gathers her thoughts for the finale. At 534 pages long, it is not only the longest book in the series but also the dullest, most frustrating to read. Normally, I burn through this series because of the nonstop action and great character development; however, with City of Lost Souls I just wanted the book to end.
  It goes without saying that I had a lot of issues with City of Lost Souls, but I will limit them to the big three that made me want to bang my head against the wall: lack of structure, anticlimactic/overdone subplots, and almost to nothing in the character development arena. I would think that with five books under her belt, Clare would avoid these pitfalls.
  The book immediately picks up right where City of Fallen Angel ends, but then the narrative quickly morphs into an amoeba going into different directions as the point of views move from one character to the next. I kid you not. The point of view changes at least ten times within a single chapter, many times without any logical transitions. I felt lost and no longer felt as if I was reading but rather a pinball machine flinging to one place to another. The second arc of the Mortal Instrument series is suppose to focus on Simon (now I have a sneaky suspicious that was all a ruse), an integral secondary character in the series but again the plot and center stage is hijacked by Clace (Clary and Jace) and their romantic turmoil. Instead of sympathizing with Clary or nodding my head in agreement of Jace not being at a good place, I grew tired of their rocky relationship which is more important than the fact that their entire world outside their bubble is falling apart. Both characters who I normally enjoy or in the case of Jace, tolerate, become extremely self absorbed, boring, and repetitive. Due to Clace's relationship angst, everything and everyone is brushed aside. We get clips of arguments with the werewolf council, snippets of homophobia amongst the Shadowhunter society, a few angels and demons summoned here and there, and of course the sexual tension between the various pairs that go teeter on the "are they a couple?" and "are they breaking up?" scale. Yawn.
    Despite these small threads, what disheartened me the most are the stupid mistakes the characters make. It takes them 50 pages to identify the obstacle and then come up with the wrong tactic to correct it. Really? You defeated the big bad with less resources in the first three books and now you stumble, bumble, and fumble to figure out what's right and wrong when the answer is right in front of you? In addition to this, there was a large focus on Jordan's and Maia's relationship, which puzzles me since they were only mentioned mostly in the City of Fallen Angels for a brief moment. I really don't know how this couple adds anything to the overall story arc. Don't get me wrong, I like Jordan and Maia, but their relationship is not important as the other characters that were present since the first book of this series.
   As I mentioned earlier, there isn't much character development in City of Lost Souls. The characters remain stagnant with the exception of a quick glimmer here and there of life, but by then it was almost too late to care. I can, however, point out to all the details of the clothes the characters were wearing throughout the story as there were passages and passages of those descriptions. I'm not convinced that Sebastian is a complex villain. Sure, he's twisted but menacing? Not really. His plot to ruin the world is pretty obvious, but it still takes our heroes and heroines over 500 pages to piece the puzzle together which I figured out in about 200 pages when I wasn't getting motion sickness from the narrative. Heck, even the grand reveal of the master plan and the detailed battle scene fails to bring on the thrills that we expect from this series. By the end of the book, it's pretty clear how things will end with the sixth (and final?) book in the series.
   Now you're probably wondering what did I like in this book? I liked the small moments between Simon and Isabel when they were given limited page time. I also liked the scene where Magnus tried to knock some sense into Alec. There are some great lines here and there that made me chuckle, but that's about it.
   I know there are going to be readers who will love everything in this series, but I expected a lot more from this well established series. Now I'm worried about City of Heavenly Fire which is slated to be published in March 2014 according to Goodreads. For once I think the long wait might be a good thing.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, allusions to sex, and some disturbing images. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare (March 2014), Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare, Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr, Evernight series by Claudia Gray
Rummanah Aasi
I really hope this review posts. Blogger has been glitchy for a few hours last night. I've received many recommendations to start Patricia Briggs' Alpha and Omega series. This new series is set in the same world as her Mercy Thompson's world but it focuses on different, secondary characters with rules of its own. I finished and really enjoyed the first book, Cry Wolf.

Description: Anna never knew werewolves existed, until the night she survived a violent attack... and became one herself. After three years at the bottom of the pack, she'd learned to keep her head down and never, ever trust dominant males. Then Charles Cornick, the enforcer- and son- of the leader of the North American werewolves, came into her life.
   Charles insists that not only is Anna his mate, but she is also a rare and valued Omega wolf. And it is Anna's inner strength and calming presence that will prove invaluable as she and Charles go on the hunt in search of a rogue werewolf- a creature bound in magic so dark that it could threaten all of the pack.


Review: Cry Wolf continues the story found in the anthology On the Prowl, where we are introduced to Anna, a reluctant and new member of the Chicago Pack werewolves. Three years ago, she was turned against her will and since then went through emotional, physical and sexual abuse by her Pack. The purpose of the abuse, which thankfully wasn't shown but discussed briefly, was to 'break' Anna and make her submissive around dominant wolves. Anna is unlike many wolfs in the sense that she has a special ranking as an Omega, which means she is protective and brings peace to a pack with her natural ability to soothe the animal part of the werewolf. She has been made to believe that she is weak, but in reality she's fierce, strong willed, and incredibly determined to move beyond her brutal past. 
  When Charles Cornick, the enforcer and son of the Marrok (the leader of the North American Werewolves) and brother of Samuel, comes to Chicago to investigate the issue, he has an immediate attraction to Anna. Anna's and Charles' wolf counterparts pretty soon see each other as "mated". The human counterparts however, want to take their relationship slow, which is where Cry Wolf begins. Anna goes back to the Marrok's territory in Montana with Charles and tries to find her place in her new life, a chance to start over again on a relatively clean slate. In the mean time there's a rogue werewolf on the loose that is causing danger and needs to be dealt with.
 I really enjoyed Cry Wolf because the book's focal point is more on the character development and relationship between Anna and Charles which differs from the Mercy Thompson novels, where action and paranormal politics take center stage. With Cry Wolf, I follow the happenings of the other, secondary characters that are vital to Mercy's world but make a brief appearance such as the Marrok and Charles, who really come to life in this book.
     The love story was very well done. Though they are mated according to their wolves, Anna and Charles are at the beginning of their relationship, where they are learning things about one another and trying to become comfortable with having another person in their lives. There is lots of awkwardness, tension, misinterpretation of feelings going on between them. The distance between the characters isn't your typical hate/love relationship or the annoying "does he/she like me now? what am I doing wrong" running inner dialogue that cause a reader to groan, but rather a plausible conflict as each character have built defensive walls around themselves that will take time to break.
   Charles has been employed as his father's assassin for over 150 years. He is a not the first person you would think of if you're having a rough day. He is not good with words and keeps his distance. It's not that he doesn't like people or isn't personable, but he simply afraid to be close to anyone in fear that he'll have to harm them if they step out of the pack's rules. Being in a new, solid relationship is very foreign to him. Though he physically appears to be intimidating, he is incredibly patient, gentle and sweet with Anna. Similarly, Anna's walls are built from fear which makes sense given the horrors that she has experienced. She has to learn all over again to trust her instincts and needs time to rebuilt her trust, though she shares mutual attraction to Charles. Though the characters make strides in their relationship, there is still a lot of development needed. There is no doubt that my favorite parts of the book are when we see Charles and Anna spend time together, whether it's through dialogue or just being together. I think they both compliment each other very well.
    The mystery surrounding the rogue werewolf wasn't very action packed and unfolded leisurely. I wasn't bored with it, but I also thought it was more like a subplot of the book. I know that the mystery aspect is considered the weakest part of the book, but honestly, I was more interested in reading about the relationship amongst the characters to take notice. I liked meeting new characters and learning a bit more about background information on the Marrok, a character that I always found to be enigmatic.
  Briggs' writing style is simple, straightforward, but also has the right touch of emotions. You get a chance to tag along the characters, get to know them on a personal level without ever being intrusive. The paranormal and human aspect to the characters are balanced, which makes them very appealing.
   As a side note, I don't know if you should read the Mercy Thompson books before starting this series, as they both stand alone, however, I felt very comfortable in jumping on one to the other with having knowledge of the Mercy universe already established. I did pick up on the hints of what's happening outside of Montana. Overall, I really enjoyed this first book and I plan on reading the rest of the series. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, violence, and a brief non explicit sex scene that fades to black. Recommended for older teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Hunting Ground (Alpha and Omega #2) by Patricia Briggs, Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews, Skinwalker by Faith Hunter, Chicagoland Vampire series by Chloe Neil
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm delighted to have Huntley Fitzpatrick, the author of My Life Next Door, stop by the blog today. If you're in the mood for a really good summer romance read, be sure to pick up My Life Next Door. This or that feature allows us, the readers, to get to the know the author's preferences. Below are Ms. Fitzpatrick's responses to my questions. Enjoy!

Mass or CT? I’ve loved both at different times and in different ways. What I love about both is living on the coast near the ocean.

Calvin O'Keefe from A Wrinkle in Time or Laurie from Little Women Oh, Calvin all the way. He really GETS Meg right from the start, completely accepts everything about her and stands by her. I think Laurie was a little more in love with the idea of Jo than he was with Actual Jo. And he gave up on her and went off and married her sister! Still haven’t forgiven him for that.

Favorite Shakespeare film adaptation: Branaugh's Hamlet or Baz Luhrman's Romeo and Juliet? Romeo and Juliet is more fun to watch, but I think I’d pick the old Zefferelli version, even though Romeo has a bathing suit tan line in a key romantic scene.

Biking or walking?  Biking is great---it’s always felt a little like flying to me. But the slow-down-and-appreciate part of walking is wonderful. Plus you can walk and talk with friends, which is harder with biking. My daughters and I love to take this five mile ride to the beach, but we stop all the time to comment on things we see or thoughts that strike us, so I’m not sure how aerobic the whole experience
is.

 Revision or free write?  Both in different ways. Free writing and having characters do unexpected things and turn the plot in surprising directions is exhilarating. But going back over the tangled first draft and getting it right (hopefully) is satisfying in a completely different way.

Can't leave with out: cell phone or computer/laptop?  I have an unhealthy attachment to my laptop. I take it everywhere. My husband jokes that it’s like the suitcase with the nuclear codes the POTUS has to have with him at all times.

 Work preference: home or cafĂ©?  Home. I can’t focus on my story when I hear all these other potential ones going on around me. I can’t work with music in the background. It’s hard for me to write if another person is in the room. Our pets, of course, know this and the minute I sit down at my laptop, the three cats and the dog all charge into the room and drape themselves around.

Coke or Pepsi?  Diet Coke. Way too much when I’m on deadline.

Instant love or slow burning romance?  Both can be amazing. The times I really fell were instant, but then with a long slow burn til we figured things out and were sure of one another.

Love and lost or not love at all? Love is always worth it. Always.

 Thank you for stopping by Ms. Fitzpatrick! I completely agree with you on Calvin. He is my first book boyfriend I've ever had. Still miffed about Laurie. Did he really have to pick Amy?!


“One thing my mother never knew, and would disapprove of most of all, was that I watched the Garretts. All the time.”

The Garretts are everything the Reeds are not. Loud, numerous, messy, affectionate. And every day from her balcony perch, seventeen-year-old Samantha Reed wishes she was one of them . . . until one summer evening, Jase Garrett climbs her terrace and changes everything. As the two fall fiercely in love, Jase's family makes Samantha one of their own. Then in an instant, the bottom drops out of her world and she is suddenly faced with an impossible decision. Which perfect family will save her? Or is it time she saved herself?

A dreamy summer read, full of characters who stay with you long after the story is over.
Rummanah Aasi
  I want to apologize for the sporadic blog posts and comments. After jumping the hurdles of the end of the school year, I'm now trying to make my way preparing for the next school year. As the bookstore manager of my high school, summer is my busiest time sorting out book requests and book orders. I'm trying to come up with a better posting schedule so please bear with me. I've got lots of great books to review, authors to interview, and giveaways coming up!
  Manga Mondays is a meme hosted by Alison at Alison Can Read where bloggers can share their passion for reading mangas. It's a great place to get new manga titles to try and to meet new bloggers. Today I'll be reviewing the third volume of Nana.

Description (from back of the book): Things are slowly coming together for Nana O. The guitarist and drummer from her old band have joined her in Tokyo and she's finally found a ripping new bass player to replace Ren Honjo. The Black Stones are back and they're ready to kick some butt.
  Nana K, however, can't shake her old nemesis, the Demon Lord. She's stuck in a dead-end job and there's trouble brewing with her boyfriend, Shoji. He's been working late and hasn't exactly been the most attentive lover. Poor Nana. Life in Tokyo is turning out to be a total bummer.

Review: In Volume 3, life had different things in stored for the girls. Nana Osaki has a lot things going for her at the moment. She has reunited with the guitarist and drummer from her old band. After placing a wanted ad for a bassist player, they've filled that void too. Now that the band is starting to come together, they are ready to play some gigs again. 
   Though we aren't given that much information about Nana O's band mates, they do have interesting backgrounds. Nobu is the guitarist who comes from a rich family (his parents own an inn). Despite being the heir to the property, his real passion is music. He shares Nana O's dream of making it big with a band one day. I get the feeling that he and Nana K. might get together as their are flirtatious vibes between them. Yasu is the drummer who usually handles the business partnerships and financial decisions needed for the band's success. Yasu's favorite cigarette brand is "Black Stones", from which the band got their name. He is also studying to be a lawyer in training, despite his clean shaven head, many earrings and dark glasses appearance. He is the big brother figure for Nana O and for Nobu at times, but I get the sense that he feels more for Nana O. Shin, the latest addition to the band, plays the bass and works what seems to be as a male prostitute to make his living. We are given small clues that his parents have abandoned him. I can't wait to learn more about these guys in future volumes.
 Unlike Nana O, Nana K feels like life's punching bag. Nothing is going right for her. What seemed to be her perfect job at working at a vintage store is failing and being closed, forcing her to be unemployed. Fortunately, Nana K doesn't wallow for long and works to find a new job as an administrative assistant in a small publishing job. Her new job, however, is taking away time from her relationship with her boyfriend, Shoji. When Nana K. is away from her boyfriend, her insecurities rise to the surface and she accuses him of meeting a new girl named Sachiko. Sachiko was an inside joke for the first two volumes, however, her worst nightmare comes true when Shoji really meets a girl named Sachiko who is also an art student and works at his job. Nana K's and Shoji's relationship quickly falls apart when Shoji and Sachiko become closer. I have to say that I didn't care for Shoji for starters but I really wanted him to smack him upside the head for thinking with the other part of his body. Instead of coming clean with Nana K, he does the unthinkable. I really felt bad for Nana K in this book and I hope she doesn't completely fall apart in the next installment.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, smoking, drinking, and a small sex scene in this volume. Recommended for older teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Nana Vol 4 by Ai Yazawa
Rummanah Aasi
   I've heard great things about Scary School, a new children horror/comedy series from HarperCollins. As an adult, I know I appreciate a bit more tongue in cheek humor and Scary School totally delivers. Perfect for kids who like scary books that feature monsters but who aren't terrifying. Think Pixar's Monster, Inc. meets Lemony Snicket. For full disclosure, I was given a copy of the book by the author in exchange for an honest review. 

Description (from publisher): You think your school's scary? Get a load of these teachers: Ms. Fang, an 850-year-old vampire Dr. Dragonbreath, who just might eat you before recess Mr. Snakeskin?science class is so much more fun when it's taught by someone who's half zombie Mrs. T?break the rules and spend your detention with a hungry Tyrannosaurus rex! Plus Gargoyles, goblins, and Frankenstein's monster on the loose The world's most frighteningly delicious school lunch And The narrator's an eleven-year-old ghost! Join Charles "New Kid" Nukid as he makes some very Scary friends?including Petunia, Johnny, and Peter the Wolf?and figures out that Scary School can be just as funny as it is spooky!

Review: Snarky, funny, and smart, 11 year old Derek the Ghost (it was a chem experiment gone wrong, don't ask) takes us inside Scary School where "learning, horror, and mayhem" go hand in hand where at humans and monsters attend the same school. This short and extremely enjoyable chapter book features  linking vignettes and character profiles that lead to the overall story arc of describing the school’s preparation for the annual Ghoul Games. The teachers, mostly made up of monsters, are familiar with their tough rules and classroom expectations.
  With clever titles and asides, Derek makes frequent allusions to events in later chapters and even to unwritten books, which enhances not only the humor but would work as a great tool to demonstrate foreshadowing to young readers. Odd events are thrown in for good measure and cleverly resolved in unexpected ways, which will never bore readers. Writing a funny book is hard as it is, but Kent makes it look very easily as the puns and over the top scenarios glide smoothly across the page. I think Scary School would make a great read-aloud, especially during Halloween time.
   Besides the fun, funny, action filled plot, I also really enjoyed the artwork in Scary School, which is a mixture of full page drawings and spot sketches, that reflected the book's tone quite nicely. Comical, sometimes gross, but never frightening, the pictures illuminate the strange yet familiar monsters and the susceptible human who is bound to be in trouble. I'd definitely recommend this book for those who are looking for a new exciting chapter book series for young readers.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 3 to 6.

If you like this book try: Wayside School series by Louis Sacher, The Zack Files by Grosset and Dunlap, Ghostville Elementary by Marcia Thorton Jones
Rummanah Aasi
  If you like historical mysteries be sure to check out Y.S. Lee's Agency series. It's got a strong female lead along with interesting historical details of the Victorian period, mystery, and of course a little dash of romance. There are currently three books in the series with more on the way. I've enjoyed all of them. Today I'll be reviewing book two, The Body at the Tower, and book three, Traitor in the Tunnel, respectively.

Description (from the publisher): Mary's second adventure as an undercover agent forces her to relive some harrowing childhood experiences as she seeks the identity of a murderer. Mary Quinn is back, now a trusted member of the Agency, the all-female detective unit operating out of Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. Her new assignment sends her into the grimy underbelly of Victorian London dressed as a poor boy, evoking her own childhood memories of fear, hunger, and constant want. As she insinuates herself into the confidence of several persons of interest, she encounters others in desperate situations and struggles to make a difference without exposing -or losing -her identity. Mary's adventure, which takes place on the building site of the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament, offers a fictional window into a fascinating historical time and place.

Review: After passing her first trial case, Mary Quinn begins her real assignment with The Agency, a secret all-female detective agency in Victorian London. Her latest case requires her of disguising as a male while quietly gathering information about issues impeding the progress on building the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament. The mysterious death of a workman seems to be the impetus of the delay; however, there have been rumors of widespread corruption. Once again Mary is forced to confront her less than stellar past as her disguise brings memories of her difficult childhood to the forefront. While tries to battle her own personal demons she is also trying to sort out an intricate web of theft that may have led to murder. Adding an additional layer of complication is the delectable James Easton, who caught Mary's eye during her first case. Mary and Jame's roads cross as James turns out to be the safety inspector for the building site. James has returned from India, weakened by a bout with malaria but still attracted to Mary. Like the first book in the series, Lee's attention to the lifestyle of Victorian England is impeccable. We are put in the shoes of poor workers who barely are making ends meet. Mary is a reflective and admirable character, who grapples many issues yet seems to keep her head straight. Though she routinely finds herself in hard places and doesn't make the right choices, you can't help but root for her.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and crude humor. There are scenes of beatings and punishments. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman, Enola Holmes mysteries by Nancy Springer, Secret Letters by Leah Scheier


Description (from the publisher): Mary Quinn is assigned to the Queen's case and sets out to identify a petty thief at work in Buckingham Palace and finds herself fending off the advances of a feckless prince, but a larger scandal looms when the prince witnesses the murder of a friend in an opium den.

Review: In the first two books of the Agency series, we've seen Mary take part of the upper middle class and the low, poor, working class. This time Mary finds herself at the upper crust, solving a mystery at the Buckingham Palace. Unlike the first two books, there is more of an emphasis on Mary's personal storyline. We get more details about her past including her mixed ethnicity. The mystery, which evolves from a simple case of thievery turns to a much more personable one as the Prince of Wales, heir to the throne, witnesses a murder at an opium den. The switch of the case was a bit abrupt. Lee flirts with the idea of racial tensions in this book, but I wished it was explored a bit more. It comes off kind of haphazardly. In this book Mary is forced to make some serious, life changing decisions which will put her comfort, trust, and heart at risk.
 I love the chemistry between Mary and James, which I think gets stronger with each book. Both characters complement each other really well and they both mutually admire, respect, and love one another. Though there is no cliffhanger per se in this book, there are many questions left wide open as to where Mary will head to next. Despite the minor flaws and the uneven pacing, I had a big smile on my face when I finished it and enjoyed it enough to recommend it to others.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Opium and alcohol use is mentioned. There is some language and a few, brief sexual suggestions mentioned. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman, Enola Holmes mysteries by Nancy Springer, Secret Letters by Leah Scheier, And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander, Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn.
Rummanah Aasi
 Nana is my first venture into Josei, a manga genre that is targeted to older women (ages 18 to 30). The themes, characters, and content of the manga are bit more mature. Nana is a complete manga series, compiled of 22 volumes and an anime adaptation (2 seasons, I believe) that can be found on Hulu. I plan on reading the entire series and then go back and watching the anime.

Description: Nana Komatsu is a free spirited, twenty year old who easily falls in love. After a year at art school, her best friend and her boyfriend move to Tokyo. Nana decides to save up her money and follow them.
  Nana Osaki is a punk singer in the band Blast with her boyfriend Ren. When Ren gets an offer to join an up-and-coming band in Tokyo, he leaves Blast and Nana behind. A year later, Nina heads to Tokyo as well to become a better singer and a hope to reunite with Ren once again. The two women meet by chance on the train to Tokyo, and despite being nothing alike, they hit it off.

Review: In Nana Vol. 1 we met both Nanas in their separate story lines. In Nana Vol. 2  both Nanas are on the same train heading to Tokyo. By chance they sit next together and Nana K. initates the conversation, where she practically tells Nana O. her entire life story up to the point of going to Toyko. When they get off the train, they expect to go their separate ways but fate (or coincidence) brings them back together in a most unexpected way. They both want the same apartment, which is an ideal location and relatively affordable. Unfortuantely both Nanas can't afford the apartment on their own, but they manage if they both share the lease, which what happens. 
  Most of volume 2 centers around the apartment and the difficulties they have with it. The apartment is old and they are novices at renting, especially Nana K. Most of their problems with the apartment are common to those who have lived on their own. There is the lack of power, heat, and the need for cosigners. There were a few comical scenes of how the girls try to find solutions to their problems, especially finding a job to support themselves. Nana K's new job at an awesome looking retro furniture and clothing store is a perfect match to her bubbly character. Nana O. tries to figure out whether to reunite with her band, Blast, or start over fresh. 
  I really liked how this volume was more of a slice of life than a melodramatic plot. Despite not knowing too much about the lifestyle of contemporary Japan, I could still relate to the characters and their quest for freedom, new direction in their lives. I also really liked the art in the series. Nana O.'s dark, serious tone are shown with dark shades of color with minimalist backgrounds. Nana K.'s warm, carefree, wanderlust personality are depicted with her girlie clothes and lively patterns. Photographs are also used as some of the backgrounds to make it more real.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: This manga contains smoking, drinking, nudity, and small sex scenes. Recommended for older mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Nana Vol 2 by Ai Yazawa
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